Excerpt from Digital Divide - Painting in the Age of New Media, a talk by Claudia Stamatelatos (translated from German).
Kunstverein Speyer - Thu, 1 Dec 2019
Maybe you have yourself asked what could be meant by this expression?
"Digital Divide" or "Digital Gap" actually refers to the division of society into the part that has access to digital communication and information and the part that is excluded from it.
When the term was coined in the 1990s, it was not yet clear what a huge impact digital media and the Internet would have on our everyday life.
Today's all-round supply of digital data via smartphone makes the time in which city maps, fax machines or color films were completely out of date seem almost absurdly far behind.
Thanks to affordable digital technology, everyone can now have pictures anywhere, take pictures, edit them and distribute them immediately.
What role does the drawn-out, painstakingly hand-painted picture play in this situation? Isn't it an anachronism at all - and above all figurative - to paint?
In a 2012 article published in the Artforum magazine (title: Digital Divide -Contemporary Art and New Media), art historian Claire Bishop wonders how rarely contemporary artists would deal with the influence of digitalization in her work.
Today, almost everyone uses the distribution and reproduction options of the Internet. - And many painters also use digital and digitally processed photos as the basis for their pictures -
But only a few artists reflect in their work the influence of digital media on our perception, on our thinking, on our habits.
To investigate the peculiarities of the fast-moving digital era with the age-old means of painting - i.e. with egg tempera or oil paints on canvas: the contrast could hardly be greater, could hardly be more exciting.
The various artistic positions of the works exhibited here move in precisely this area of tension.
While the Berlin artist duo Römer + Römer and the Karlsruhe painter Andreas Lau work with systems of self-created, painterly "picture disturbances", the British artist Nicholas Fudge pursues a more conceptual approach with his hybrid strategy (paintings and prints).
Both Römer + Römer and Lau start with representations that transform them in a complex process. Both obviously relate to technical methods of image generation. They paraphrase print screens, television pictures or the pixel noise of digital photography.
While television and digital photography consumers are being wooed today with increasingly crisp and high-resolution images, Römer + Römer and Andreas Lau spend a lot of time and effort on breaking down their image motifs into abstract characters and abbreviations. (divide)
The principle of the apparently insufficient resolution leads to visual irritation for the viewer. An irritation that provokes thinking in two directions:
How do I actually perceive?
And what is the meaning of what I think I recognize?
In many paintings by Andreas Lau, the motif is coded twice: First, the viewer has to penetrate the grid of chopsticks, dots or lines in order to then ask himself what mysterious situation is shown here.
When choosing his motifs, Lau often uses portraits of famous personalities, historical photographs and newspaper photos. He uses well-known or lesser-known media images, which he adds a new quality to by encrypting their surface.
In doing so, he developed a new drawing system for each motif, each with its own grid:
"The picture tells me how it should be." For the portrait of the dog “Laika”, for example, he developed a grid reminiscent of embroidery. A portrait of Che Guevara was created from a net-like structure.
But far more often, Lau uses a flickering grid of dots or stripes, which he rhythmizes in different colors and lets them run over the object in a kind of dance arrangement. So that from a certain distance from the picture a three-dimensional shape appears to bulge out of the picture area.
If you step closer, this effect is lost. The motif also disappears and dissolves in a shimmering pattern.
And in approaching one tries to fathom the system of the picture; to understand how the artist managed to create a whole without technical aids, and with clearly recognizable traces of manual work, with all its irregularities and deviations, which with increasing distance more and more a technical, even a representation of machine perfection seems to be the same.
When asked about the creation of such a work, the painter explains that he first applied the motif to the canvas as a thin background, then blurred it, so that only a vague hint of it can be seen. He sets the tone for this background with pasty egg tempera paint in mostly tinted, bright colors.
Depending on the color contrast and structure of the grid, this creates a cheerful, melancholic or even threatening mood:
In the large-format painting “Man with a knife”, Lau uses a repeat of dotted zigzag lines that stretch across the shadowy image of a man like a television picture disorder. holding a long butcher knife in his hand.
We do not see what is actually happening here, but the threatening aura of the faceless and apparently violent man is further increased by the nervous pulsation of the grid of light and dark points.
The zigzag pattern used by the artist here resembles the unpleasant impression one gets when someone wears a small patterned garment on television.
The artists of op art in the 1960s were already working with such optical phenomena:
the image surface was to be set in motion with simultaneous contrasts, moiré and flickering effects.
Andreas Lau has been working with kinetic delusions of this kind in his art for over 25 years.
At first he was interested in water surfaces and how their movement should be transferred to a static image surface. - Unlike the artists of op art, however, he does not use these optical tricks as an end in itself.
Rather, in his pictures he stages an interplay with meaning, its veiling and decoding, which not only makes the viewer move mentally but also physically.
The contrast between the volatility and inflationary availability of the media image and its extremely small and almost meditative implementation into a handmade one-off can also act as a kind of resistance against the "obsolete hand" and against the "loss of the aura" of the Image, which the philosopher Walter Benjamin stated in the 1930s.
Unlike Andreas Lau, who mostly uses existing photographic material for his work, the Berlin artist couple Nina and Torsten Römer go out with their cameras before each new project - looking for motifs.
In recent years, her study trips have taken her to South America and Russia, to the Middle and Far East and finally to the USA.
After getting to know each other at the Düsseldorf Academy (both were master students of AR Penck) and soon became a couple, Torsten and Nina Römer started to work together on artistic projects.
After a phase with performative art actions, they started to develop a technique that it enabled them to paint on one picture at the same time.
In a kind of contemporary pointillism, they produce oil paintings ranging from small to several meters long.
Thematically, Romans + Romans prefer unfocused scenes in which (mostly many) people can be seen, celebrating, demonstrating or interacting in an everyday urban context.
The motif is first laid out over a large area and then broken down into smaller, irregular areas and colored spots. The image appears to be sharper from a greater distance. Up close, the shapes lose their firmness: contours and volume prove to be an illusion. Instead, you now see an abstract surface of colored spots.
Here in Speyer, Römer + Römer show recent works that were created from photos of festivals.
The Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada draws approximately 70,000 people a year to the hot, dusty plains of a dry salt lake.
In a huge, ring-shaped campground, people camp for a week with tents and mobile homes. Everything that is needed for life has to be brought along. It is often hot during the day. When the wind comes up, everything disappears in a cloud of dust.
At the end of the week, a huge wooden figure is burned: Burning Man.
The nights before, ecstatic celebrations take place in the central square of the camp.
Römer + Römer visited the festival in 2017 and show some paintings from the “Electric Sky” series that impressively reproduce the nightly light spectacle there:
In “Sacred Dance ´White Party´“, a 2.40 meter wide painting from 2019 , we see hustle and bustle around a stage lit by fire bowls.
In the fairly evenly rastered image area, you can see a color gradient from left to right, from warm, light ocher tones to colder blue-violet shades that reflect the nightly desert sky.
Numerous smaller lights, the source of which cannot be precisely identified, provide bright blue or glowing red accents.
The most striking, all-shining light, however, emanates from a flame blazing in the sky on the left.
The largest monochrome color surface of the picture appears in a warm white:
an amorphous stain, which is surrounded by a multi-level, wide aura of yellow-orange-brown tones: as flat layered color drifts, which pixel each other at the edges, but otherwise each of a single color are determined.
The convincing impression of a firelight is created by painting imitating the optical peculiarities of digital image reproduction.
However, the rough resolution of the image prevents the viewer from finally realizing things. Although the picture with its panoramic dimensions seems to invite you to enter the scene, the coarse grain of the motif prevents it from penetrating into the depth of the room. - And the closer we get, the more disillusioned we become.
The entire picture becomes perceivable as something composed, made, and one is amazed at how apparently randomly the spots of color were set.
The art critic and journalist Félix Féneon wrote about the way the French pointillists worked in the 19th century:
"Whatever part you look at, a uniform, persistent patchwork and weaving work emerges: Here your own claw does nothing, cheating is impossible, is no place for a bravura act; the hand is also numb, the gaze is nimble, sharp-sighted, knowledgeable. “
While Römer + Römer are undoubtedly not traditional pointillists, they too work in a painting style that requires similar diligence and patience. A spontaneous, individual style is suppressed in favor of a uniform overall picture. They also have the conceptual foresight, which turns thousands of inconspicuous points into a spectacular overall picture.
- In addition: an almost ideal style if you work together on a picture that should still appear as if it were cast in one piece.